Dr. Sanaa Al Attas

Assistant Professor
Biological Sciences Department
King Abdul Aziz University
Jaddah, Saudi Arabia

MIT Department/Faculty Supervisor(s): 

Civil and Environmental Engineering, Prof. Martin Polz

Fellowship Dates: 

11/01/2013 to 10/31/2014

Sponsors: 

Saudi Aramco

Biography: 

Dr. Sanaa Al Attas is Assistant Professor at King Abdul-Aziz University. She has a PhD (King Abdul-Aziz University, 2008) in Medical Virology and Master of Science (King Abdul-Aziz University, 2002) in Microbiology\Virology.

Dr. Al Attas has been teaching different courses (Virology 330, Microbiology 231, First Aid 200) at KAU – Jeddah in the Science Faculty since 2009. Her goal is to expand the frontiers of science by interactive learning and teaching coupled with continuous research.  To her, learning and teaching is an art; it requires training, effort, research, constant development and innovation, and it has to be supported by the professor, students and the decision makers.

She has some peer-reviewed publications, works on the Department curriculum development and is a Principal Investigator on several research projects. Her research interests include diagnostic molecular virology, vaccine evaluation and efficiency, diagnostics of human and animal viral or microbial diseases, epidemiology of viral diseases.

Research Plan: 

Molecular and bioinformatic analysis of host-parasite interactions using marine phages as model system

Dr. Sanaa Alattas will be joining an ongoing project in the Polz lab on the characterization of interactions of bacterial viruses with their hosts. The overall goal of the project is to establish the interaction network of viruses with hosts.  Little is known about the extent to which viruses can control bacterial populations in the environment, yet this knowledge is crucial for interpretation of ecological dynamics and management of bacteria. 

In particular, Dr. Sanaa will characterize the molecular mechanisms by which viruses recognize their hosts and which determine both host specificity and range.  This is an important component of the overall project and has significant implications for treatment of bacterial infections by the use of viruses.  With increasing prevalence of antibiotic resistance among infectious bacterial populations, alternative treatments are urgently needed.  One such alternative is the use of viruses to control bacterial infections yet one limiting factor is the rapid evolution of resistance to viruses in bacteria. 

This problem can, however, be circumvented by combining, in a single treatment, bacterial viruses that target different receptors on the bacterial cell surface.  This is a potentially viable strategy since resistance to viruses often leads to deactivation of nutrient transporters and other important functions for the bacterial host.  Hence resistance to multiple viruses that target different such receptors will likely cause a large fitness cost so that the bacterial host will no longer be competitive in its environment (including the human body).  This is a key difference to resistance to multiple antibiotics, which comes at a much less pronounced fitness cost, especially because antibiotics are not specific for certain types of bacteria but act broadly also on competitors.